October 10, 2021 – Boardhawk

We, the passionate educators at American Indian Academy of Denver, are on a mission to help our children reclaim the genius of our ancestors. We’re in our second year as a charter school in the Denver Public Schools. By building a school of mirrors and windows we want our Indigenous students to be able to see themselves in what they’re learning, and in who they’re learning from.

On Monday October 11th the United States will observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Our people have been scientists, builders, artists, and mathematicians since time immemorial. This cultural legacy was given to us by our forebears and we work to bring that cultural legacy to our kids every day of the school year –  in a 21st century format – so that they can carry it into their future.

Metropolitan Denver is home to some 40,000 Native Americans representing 200 tribes. Because we live across the Front Range – scattered to the winds – most people don’t know we’re here. As one of the first cities to participate in the federal relocation program in the 1950s and 1960s, Denver drew Native people from around the country who were encouraged to move to urban areas as the government sought to end the protected trust status of all Indian-owned lands.

A member of the Gnoozhekaaning Anishinaabe tribe in Michigan, my mom came to Denver after surviving institutionalization at an Indian boarding school. She, like so many other Native boarding school students, was deeply impacted by this forced experience. The 2014 White House Native Youth Report states that, “the legacy of these misdeeds haunts us. The trauma of shame, fear and anger has passed from one generation to the next…” A legacy that has never been rectified or remedied.

While I’ve spent my career in Indian education, it wasn’t until I visited the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque that I realized what was possible for my community in Denver. With its strong focus on cultural identity and academic preparedness, NACA has successfully closed achievement gaps for Native students and consistently outperforms surrounding schools. The excellent graduation, college entrance and retention rates at NACA have held steady as the school celebrates its 17th year.

Read more from Terri Bissonette, American Indian Academy of Denver Founder and Principal, in Boardhawk.

September 3, 2021 – CBS4

A new school year is underway and students are once again facing a variety of stressors. COVID-19 is amplifying everyday struggles and often leads to trouble beyond school hallways and into the courtroom.

While many Colorado schools take a zero-tolerance approach to disciplining students, two alternative high schools in Denver are doing things differently.

“I walked away that night in cuffs,” Julian a freshman at 5280 Alternative High School said.

He wasn’t running from police, or doing anything destructive, he was caught on the roof of his high school at night.

“I had other charges pending. If that charge were to get on my record, a lot of things could’ve gone bad,” he said.

Elie Zweibel, a juvenile civil rights attorney in Denver, says not every student’s story will end that way.

“My average client is between 14 and 16 years old but I have clients as young as 8,” he said.

In his experience broad and often harsh discipline policies push students out of school.

“I see students being expelled for tagging, spraying graffiti off school grounds; I see students being expelled for pretty routine playground fights; I see students being expelled for mere allegations,” Zweibel said.

It often leads to more serious involvement with law enforcement.

Jen Jackson the principal at The Academy of Urban Learning says that’s how the “school to prison pipeline” gets started.

“Students will go into a detention center and they come out and it’s difficult for them to find a school that will take them or has the capacity to fulfill all the needs they may have rejoin and catch up,” she said.

Her school, AUL is there in those situations as a trauma-informed alternative high school. They offer education and support.

Read more from CBS4.

Community members welcome new DPS superintendent with open arms, watchful eyes

Sports. The English language. Mental healthcare. Lunch.

These were among the concerns more than 50 parents of Denver Public Schools students and other education advocates brought to the district’s new superintendent, Alex Marrero, when he met and greeted them at the campus of Kepner Beacon Middle School on Tuesday.

Once Marrero sat down with the parents, DPS faculty and staff, and members of Denver education advocacy groups, TeRay Esquibel, co-founder and director of the DPS alumni organization Ednium, facilitated the conversation.

The first question Esquibel asked the superintendent: “What assumptions have you held that you had to let go in order to get to where you’re at, and how is that going to help you in this job?”

The Bronx-born-and-raised former interim superintendent of the City School District of New Rochelle, N.Y. admitted he at first had doubts about his new environment. He spoke candidly about those doubts and how they’ve been alleviated as he grew more familiar with the Denver community.

“My preconceived notions were, ‘Is this just another gig?’ ‘Is it something to wipe the slate clean?’ ‘Am I going to be seen as the token Latino? A token replacement?’ I had those doubts,” Marrero said. “I can erase that from my mind, because as much as I interact with you all, I realize what you want is stability — someone who’s going to stay the course, not someone who’s going to fly in and fly out.”

Read more from T. Michael Boddie in Boardhawk here.

Case Study: The 3 Pillars Guiding Learning Recovery — and Student Growth — at Our Denver Schools as We Rush to Catch Kids Up After the Pandemic

The staff and board of University Prep Charter Schools stepped up this spring, recognizing an urgent need to develop an ambitious vision and catch-up plan that would support all children in getting back on track following more than a year of disruptions and struggles. Our objective: To ensure that, despite the significant challenges brought on by the pandemic, all our scholars will remain on track with grade-level performance, while receiving any and all supports they may need (academically, socially, emotionally and beyond).

At U Prep, we are unwavering in our belief that all children, from all backgrounds, can learn at the highest levels. They are brilliant, beautiful people and absolutely capable. Eighty-five percent of our students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches and 94 percent are students of color. In 2017, scholars at our Steele Street campus in Denver had the highest math growth in the state (out of all public elementary schools) and the eighth highest English Language Arts (ELA) growth, after a single year.

Read more of Recardo Brook’s commentary in The74 here.

Op-Ed written by Ariel Taylor Smith of Transform Education Now.

A letter to the next superintendent of Denver Public Schools:

Be brave enough to demand results for kids.

Families across this city demand meaningful, measurable results — our kids’ future is at stake.

“Will our children be prepared for a life of opportunity?” This is the question that has resurfaced over and over again with Denver families during the past year of remote learning. Over the past eighteen months, Transform Education Now has made thousands of calls to families. On those calls, we check to make sure that the family we are speaking with has everything they need to support their child — we connect them to meal programs, ensure they have wi-fi and computer access, and then generally check on how remote learning is going in their house. No surprise: Most often, families reported that their student was receiving significantly fewer opportunities for learning, and they are worried about their child’s future. In fact, in our winter 2020 survey that included 650 parents, half reported that their student was not ready to move on to the next grade level.

Read more of Ariel’s Op Ed in Westword here.

Middle school students from the American Indian Academy of Denver visited the site of the Hayman fire earlier this spring to study the affects of wildfire on the environment. Through their STEAM curriculum in class, students were able to study the physical components surrounding wildfire management including weather, erosion and geology, but what makes this school so special is the infusion of indigenous practices in their learning.

A clear example of how ancestral Indigenous views have relevance today is Indigenous knowledge and practices about wildfire.

“Back when Indigenous people were on their land, they practiced controlled burning,” explained eighth-grader Rose Leyba.

Native peoples set up a perimeter and burned within it, clearing out underbrush. New plants would grow back and replenish the forest, she said. When white settlers arrived, Leyba said they brought a different philosophy on fire.

“It had a different meaning than it does for the Indigenous people,” she said, such as using the science of fire for weapons or burning things that weren’t medicine.

And the modern view on wildfires? Suppress them at all costs. Without the periodic fires, the forest lost an important control mechanism. The forest in the Hayman fire was unnaturally dense, adding fuel to an already dangerous situation. To better understand fire in Colorado, the students studied wildfires around the world — and how Indigenous views on wildfire are starting to influence fire management strategies in places like Australia and California.

Listen to Colorado Public Radio’s Jenny Brundin as she traveled along with the class here.

Photo credit: Eli Imadali, CPR News

Early conversations with Denver Public Schools parents and students participating in a research initiative point to the importance of individualized attention, regular communication, rigorous coursework, and strong mental health support as key elements of a high quality education.

The PEACE Collective (a coalition composed of Transform Education Now, FaithBridge, YAASPA, and various community members) and RootED Denver have teamed up with Drs. Brenda Allen, Sharon Bailey, Antwan Jefferson, Janiece Mackey, Jesús Rodríguez and Maria Salazar to conduct the community research. The research – expected to be finalized and released this summer – seeks to understand how Black, Brown, & Indigenous families and students in DPS conceptualize quality and equity in education.

Individuals in the community who have first-hand experience with DPS are participating in small-group virtual meetings.  The overarching questions being asked of the participants are: What is the district doing to help you (or your student) succeed? And what should the district be doing?

Read more from student, Stacy Amidou (pictured), and other community members in Boardhawk’s coverage of the research project here!

TeRay Esquibel, RootED’s Partner for Community Partnership and Advocacy, is inspiring change with a new organization, Ednium: The Alumni Collective. TeRay will leave RootED February 1st to lead Ednium.

A RootED grantee, Ednium is a team of Denver Public Schools alumni that provides programs aiming to reinvent education, give leadership training to young alums, and develop new advocacy initiatives.
Participants in Ednium’s programs have identified new district priorities, including broader definitions of student success and a greater emphasis on equity and representation. They are also advocating for ethnic studies and financial literacy courses to become graduation requirements for the district’s students.
“This is reinvesting in the brilliance in our backyard,” Esquibel told Chalkbeat this month. “This is mobilizing the brilliance to be the powerful force for change that we claim we want them to be.”


Read Chalkbeat’s coverage of Ednium here!

Community Identifies Need

Research has shown that students who share the same background as educators, receive more effective role modeling, higher expectations for learning and their future, and have fewer cultural differences. The community’s been calling for an increase the number of effective, diverse and representative leaders across public schools in Denver.

Partner Response

Following an extensive nationwide search, the KIPP Colorado Board of Directors selected Tomi Amos as its new KIPP Colorado CEO. Previously, Tomi served as Executive Director for the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone (NDIZ).

Impact

Tomi’s appointment is historic for Denver: she is the first leader of color of a charter network here, and her ascendance is an inspiration to so many who’ve struggled for generations to improve equitable outcomes in our public schools.  She said, “I have prided myself on working in communities with high populations of English Language Learners, and making sure their identities are affirmed. It’s not acceptable to me to pursue a path where our kids are not celebrating their culture and their heritage and their language in the same way they can learn a new language.”   Tomi was featured on 9News, New CEO for KIPP Colorado Schools makes sure students have equal access to virtual learning.

Community Identifies Need

Communities of color remain disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the economic downturn. 

Partner Response

Thanks to a community-specific grant from RootED and savings from hosting its annual staff conference remotely, DSST Public Schools were able to support a handful of local businesses owned by people of color.

Impact

More than 800 DSST Public Schools teachers and staff received $40 each in gift cards to businesses owned by people of color. See story on 9News:  DSST Public Schools Gives Back to the Community